Max's Wine Dive Serves Up Swagger and Special Chicken-Fried...Lobster?
The state fair is proof that you can fry anything. This is proof that it works.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
It may seem antithetical to pair something generally expensive and highbrow like lobster with a Southern classic like chicken-fried steak or chicken.
But there it was, plate after plate of chicken-fried lobster with home fries and collard greens sailing past me on the upturned palms of servers to tables throughout Max's Wine Dive during brunch. When my waiter arrived and asked what I'd be eating, I just pointed.
"That," I said, gesturing to the shiny red tail beneath a mound of fried pinkish meat on the table next to me. "I want that."
"Good choice," he replied. "That's what all the rappers are getting."
"Oh yeah," my waiter said when he saw the surprise on my face. "They brunch here all the time. And they got the lobster, too."
All the cool kids and rappers eat CFL.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
After I'd had a few bites of the surprisingly balanced chicken-fried lobster, I spotted the chef at Max's, Michael Pellegrino, strolling through the restaurant. I stopped him as he passed my table.
"Okay, I have to ask," I said. "Chicken-fried lobster? What gives?"
"I know, I know!" Pellegrino said laughing. "I refused to eat it for at least three weeks after it was invented. It's kind of a funny story."
Evidently, Pellegrino had decided to take a rare break from the kitchen for a day and left his sous chef, Ana Amayo, in charge. He poked his head in at some point -- just to make sure things were running smoothly in his absence -- and there it was on the specials board: Chicken-Fried Lobster.
Pellegrino says he went back to the kitchen and asked Ana what the hell she was thinking.
"I was like, people like lobster braised in butter or steamed!" Pellegrino says. "No one wants to eat chicken-fried lobster!"
Amayo told him to give it a try, and sure enough, the diners loved it. It's been a regular special for some time now, because people keep coming in and requesting the $40 plate of chicken-fried lobster.
It's a full lobster tail scooped out of the shell, then breaded in a thick, slightly spicy batter and fried until the outside is bubbly and crispy and the lobster inside is cooked through. Actually, it might be fried just a tad longer than necessary for the lobster, as it was a little tough. It still had the sweet, delicate lobster flavor, though, and it held up surprisingly well against the flavorful batter.
The fried tail meat was served on a bed of stewed collard greens that were actually some of the best collard greens I've ever had the pleasure to brunch on. Home fries cooked so long they're almost caramelized are a nice addition to the plate as well, though unnecessary, unless you have the appetite of a rapper. I do not.
The dish contains one final component that might have been my favorite part, even more so than the lobster: A fluffy half slice of French toast with a generous side of real maple syrup. It was rich and custardy, and it would pair perfectly with a glass or three of dry rosé on a Sunday afternoon. Breakfast and wine together? That's two of my favorite things.
If you're a tried-and-true Texan like I am, you believe that anything can be improved by a little chicken-frying, and lobster is no exception. So while the notion of the lobster dish was questionable, the execution made me proud to be from the great state that has invented the likes of deep-fried butter, chicken-fried bacon and, yes, fried beer.
That said, watching Slim Thug go to town on a chicken-fried crustacean was the definite highlight of my brunch.
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